Movement Exchange in Panamá!

A day before December 25, 2014 I wrote a letter to myself:

Dear Simone,

It’s the day before Christmas, a couple of days more before the new year. I encourage you to live bravely, boldly and fully in 2015. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid.

Love,

Simone

To 2015…

movement exchangeIf you would have asked me if I were going abroad for the first time in my life, to volunteer with a dance service organization, I would have said “I wish!”. I would have quickly chipped the possibility down to a nub by over-analyzing how it WOULD’T WORK…no money, no time, I just started dancing again, will I be good enough to teach? I would have been swallowed by all of that, literally in one gulp. But because I was absolutely floored when I found Movement Exchange on a Ballet blog called “Setting the Barre”, and because I immediately applied, I didn’t have a chance to think about why it wouldn’t work.

Move-Ex in PanamaAnd here I am getting ready to travel to Panamá tomorrow to be a Dance Diplomat with Move-Ex. I applied to volunteer because of the combination of dance, working with kids, travel, social change and connecting with and learning from others.

When I first learned that I was accepted to participate in the open call I was 100% excited and 0% afraid. Every step I took to move closer to actually going to Panamá, my excitement level increased. My fear level also increased, so much that the last few days I’ve been asking myself “am I supposed to be doing this?”, “do I belong here?” and “what are you doing Simone?”.

Though I still have some anxiety, I snapped out of that mindset. Volunteering with Movement Exchange could be a wonderful way to give, learn and grow and I want to be fully present to experience it all. Follow my group’s Move-Ex dance adventure, we will be blogging throughout the week!

Stay tuned for these future posts:

Around the World: A Benefit for Dance to Unite 

My Experience as a Dance Diplomat with Movement Exchange 

My first year as a Dance to Unite Volunteer 

Dear Dance Teachers…You Live, You Learn

Power.On Pointe.

On April 10, 2015 my grandmother and I went to New York City Center to watch the Dance Theatre of Harlem company perform Power. On Pointe.

Power-on-Pointe-BGD

(source)

We LOVED the performance. We saw four works; “Agon”, “Coming Together”, “In the Mirror of Her Mind” and finally “Return” . When I lived in Denver in second grade, my grandmother and I went on a school field trip to see “The Nutcracker”. I have absolutely no recollection of that experience so really, Power. On Pointe. was my first time attending a Ballet performance! My grandmother and I enjoyed every single piece and were really surprised that songs like “Mother Popcorn” and “Superbad” by James Brown could be used for Ballet (view part of “Return” below). Definitely check out Dance Theatre of Harlem’s New York Season next year!

Creating A Dance Vision Board

“Dance is Life”

That is what one of the new group leaders said a few Thursdays ago during Nooshi’s Bellydance class in the Bronx. I couldn’t agree more! When I first started my dance adventure I took Bollywood classes. I thought that afterward I would be able to remember all of my dance experiences fully and clearly. I had the idea that I would look back on everything and remember what I was wearing, other faces in the room, the music, specific movements, emotions, feelings, what people said… the moment to moment happenings. But, dance doesn’t work like that. When I dance (and I’m sure when others do) I’m in the moment. I’m so present that it’s hard to describe. I love that about dance and at the same time whenever I’m not dancing I wish I could go into an immaculate library in my mind filled with all kinds of dance experiences and replay them exactly how they occurred so I could relive everything.

When I’m fully present in a dance class or Dance to Unite class I get a lot out of the experience. This makes me think about life in general; if I’m intentionally present on a daily basis I can get so much more out of life than disconnecting from the flow of it and entertaining anxious, worried fearful thoughts. I can feel fulfilled so much more dancing through life than future tripping or “over analysis leading to paralysis”. I encourage everyone to let go and dance through life!

Dancing in the City

Highs

Beginner Bellydance classes at Serena Studios

I’m learning hip lifts and drops, how to make different figure 8s and different ways to shimmy, how to do large and small hip circles and have proper posture. Shimmying is really hard for me, especially with my shoulders. My arms also get tired from being up, so building arm strength is something I have to work on. Even though I get self-conscious sometimes about being thin and not being really curvy, I feel excited about taking the class.

Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney

I’m taking Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney at Asase Yaa in Brooklyn! This class is energy medicine for me, meaning that after I take this dance class my energy level is through the roof. I come home and end up staying up until 2am (when other days I can hardly keep my eyes open). I have never felt so awake after a dance class, it’s very reinvigorating mostly because of the live drumming, the energy the teacher brings and the energy of everyone else dancing and connecting with each other through dance, music and singing. At the end of class we all form a big circle and different people dance in the circle one at a time. I have always been deathly afraid of dancing in the circle by myself. I have danced in the circle twice. I really want to dance in the circle with confidence by the end of the year!

Going to dance classes with friends!

Getting dance deals (helloo Living Social, if you don’t know, now  you know, you know)

Lows

Not having money

 Living in NYC is expensive, and when I don’t have money for dance classes I feel down sometimes.

Commuting from Staten Island

Between walking to the ferry, the process of loading and docking and walking to the train and getting off and walking to my destination after I get off the train (and often going to three different boroughs in the same day sometimes), by the end of the day I don’t feel like dancing because I’m so tired!

Knee pain

On a daily basis my knees hurt and it really makes it difficult to get around

In the end, I’m so grateful for the dance opportunities I have had and that are happening now!

Dance/Movement Goals

What also keeps me going is the fact that my grandmother and I both made dance/movement goals. We have different goals, but a few similarities are doing yoga at least once a week, learning more about dance travel/tourism and a secret goal I won’t reveal until June or July. One of my personal dance goals is to focus on exploring and studying different dances from Africa and the African Diaspora and Bellydance. This summer I want to take a break from those classes and study Semi-Classical Indian dance and Beginner Ballet. Another goal is to just explore different dance styles without studying them for long-term until I’m done with what I’m already studying. At the beginning of February, my grandmother and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked about our dance/movement goals, then I typed them up and now we have them taped to our walls.

Over the weekend we also created Dance Vision Boards to inspire and motivate us!

How to Create a Dance/Movement Vision Board

20150419_195952
On my board I have pictures that reflect the dance classes I’m taking right now (Bellydance and dances from the African Diaspora), the barefeet logo because I want to do what Mickela Mallozzi is doing, which is traveling around the world learning dances from different cultures, meeting different people and eating lots of delicious food! There is a white rose with musical notes on the petals to show my love for music, yoga poses by Yoga Rachael who I follow on Instagram and Dance to Unite’s logo for inspiration to learn more about the 13 Steps to Unity, and to remind me about the kids we serve. Under the ballerina on the right is the logo for the upcoming NYC Dance Parade in May which hopefully I can participate in. There is also a photo of a field of daffodils and that represents a very special aspiration I will blog about later on. I have a photo of two people dancing because one day I would like to try social dancing! I haven’t touched upon everything, but finally there are inspiration sayings like: “wherever you go, go with all your heart” by Confucius, “the quickest way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do” by anon and “be brave with your life”.

1. Buy a poster board at Michael’s or another art and crafts supplies store (OR I’m totally for DIY, you can use the side of a large cardboard box instead).

2. Research dance/inspiration related photos on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr or Google Images

3. Copy and Paste to a Word Document

4. Print the document and cut out the pictures/words with scissors

5. Glue (or tape) them to your board

This was just a suggestion! You can create your vision board however you want 🙂

Special Guest Ballerina Visits Bollywood/Kathak Class

1397389_409454665846170_8539383243999551167_oSpecial guest artist and professional Ballerina, Emily Anton, joins Circle Talk in Vaishali’s Bollywood and Kathak class.

EA-ARTIST-2015-pages-w-captions

(source)

Emily is a part of Ballets with a Twist dance company.

>>>Learn more about Emily and her experiences by checking out her blog!<<<

On March 30, 2015 there was a lot of excitement at the beginning of class as the girls practiced their Bollywood dance while they waited for Emily. When she arrived, it didn’t take long for the girls to start asking questions about life as a Ballerina. There was never a dull moment during class. Emily introduced herself and answered the girls questions from what’s her favorite move to her favorite part about being a Ballerina. Some girls asked if she had ever had an injury, what dancers do if they mess up during a performance and how male ballerinas are able to lift female ballerinas. Emily then demonstrated some Ballet moves and explained the reason why she enjoyed Ballet was because of how expressive she could be.

After an initial Q&A, this happened…

Emily passes around a special pair of Ballet Pointe shoes

10943662_409454855846151_4114801920719367800_o

“I was 13 years old when I got my first pair of pointe shoes. They are special to me because dancing in pointe shoes is unlike anything else on earth – you are quite literally standing on the tips of your toes using shoes specially designed to help you do that. It feels like you are floating, rising above everything else, flying, spinning with the greatest ease. I also enjoy the additional challenge pointe shoes present the ballet dancer, everything becomes slightly harder and additional strength is required in the ankles and feet to allow the ballet dancer to rise all the way up on to the tips of your toes!”

We watch a short video of her performing in “Cocktail Hour: The Show”

11084231_409454975846139_1289517943257594753_o

then the whole class joins her in learning different Ballet moves

10956409_409454735846163_5730770870542648282_o
Port de Bras

At the end of class the girls performed their Bollywood performance for Emily.

She didn’t leave without a lot of thank yous, more questions and hugs.

11080462_409454582512845_8627614917887164267_o

Quotes that INSPIRE Emily 

“In life, as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet” -Alice Abrams

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings
“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” -Anonymous

Dance to Unite Team ( Jenae, Galit, Emily, Vaishali and Tal)

Dance to unite team ( Jenae, emily, Simone, Vaishali and Tal)

Simone Meet Cumbe, Cumbe Meet Simone

20141126_164422-1
(I’m on the right!)

A couple of weeks ago I found an old photo of my friend and I at a Ballet performance (I’m on the right). I was kind of startled by the picture because I have no recollection of that young Simone, even my Ballet classes slip my mind. It is interesting what people do and do not remember from their childhoods. Surely my dance memories would remain intact, but all I can remember is my friend’s name. With this absence, finding this photo gave me some reassurance of dance in my life. I don’t think finding this photo was a coincidence. A few days later I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and came across a trailer for Michaela Deprince’s upcoming book trailer below.

I was immediately inspired by her personal story, the images and reality of a Black Ballerina and and just the elegance of Ballet. I never considered taking Ballet classes again because of my “too late” mindset. But, as I continued to learn more about Deprince, Misty Copeland and after watching First Position,  I decided it’s not too late for me. I’m hoping to start adult Ballet classes next year at the Dance Theatre of Harlem!

While taking Bollywood and Bhangra classes on Wednesdays I have also found a home at Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance. It is truly a gem. I started taking classes about a month and a half ago. I registered for Cumbe’s Community Dance Day, where all the classes for a Saturday were $5. My first class was Congocise taught by Funmilayo. I love the live drumming, which Funmilayo says is better than today’s synthetic music. I strongly support eating real food instead of synthetic food (and try whenever I can) because real food gives you healthier energy. I never thought about live music like drumming providing healthier energy than synthetic beats.

The second class was West African with Mouminatou Camara and then Samba/Afro-Brazilian with Danielle Lima. After taking Samba I realize I’m not good with my feet, I need to move my left side more and I have a hard time doing two different moves using my legs, feet and arms at the same time. In all three classes, the dancing style where people line up in four lines on one side of the room and dance across to the other side was new to me. Cumbe offers so many interesting classes like Salsa, Afro-Latin Jazz, Afro-Haitian, Sabar, “Dancing the Orishas” with Gilset Mora and special workshops like upcoming Rumba with Stevie Insua. I love Cumbe, and what’s awesome about the center is that people from all different backgrounds come to learn!

Congocise class with Funmilayo

After my first experience with dances from the African Diaspora, the word “free” comes to mind. Free head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips. Free everything. It’s not like learning choreography where there has to be some thinking and constant repetition involved. Following the teacher’s movements in lines across the room is a mixture of observation and pure dancing. When it’s your turn, you have no time think, hardly any time to practice, you just go. Three days ago I took Samba/Afro- Brazilian again and gained confidence to just dance (even if I don’t have the movements all the way right). This reminds me as a dance teacher-on-her-way to always remind students that dance class is about having fun and expressing yourself, trying your best and never giving up on learning the moves.

I’m really excited about DanceAfrica next year, the nation’s largest festival dedicated to African dance. It takes place in New York City through Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and other states like Chicago and DC. Last year DanceAfrica focused on Madagascar-based music and dance troupe Bakomanga. I didn’t get a chance to go in 2014, but I’m hoping to attend next May. Cumbe participates in this festival and I can’t wait to find out which teachers will give dance demonstrations.

West African Dance Demonstration with M’Bemba Bangoura at DanceAfrica 2014

So far I have taken a Hip-Hop, Dancehall and Afro-Cuban Folkloric class at Cumbe. The most challenging class has been Afro-Cuban Folkloric dance. I cannot describe the dance, people have to see and experience the strength and spirit in the movements for themselves. I sucked in this class. I could not get the moves right to save my life. I was off with the beat and an overall mess. When my arm was supposed to go right, it went left and when I was supposed to turn I was tripping over myself. I’m intimated by that class and contemplating about going back, but the biggest lesson I have learned at Cumbe is that I cannot expect to waltz in a class and ace a cultural dance I have never been exposed to. It takes time. I’ll say it again, (mostly for myself) it takes time. A few of my fellow Dance to Unite family members have said this to me, so I’m going to continue to learn and grow at Cumbe keeping that in mind.